PHILADELPHIA – This past Monday, a federal appellate court dismissed the appeal proceedings brought forward by a Pottstown couple who made various claims against Wells Fargo Bank concerning a mortgage foreclosure action began by the bank five years ago.

On Oct. 17, judges Thomas I. Vanaskie, Anthony J. Scirica and Julio M. Fuentes of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit rejected the petition of plaintiffs Rance M. Strunk Sr. and Darlene M. Strunk, which called for, among other things, a default judgment to be levied against Wells Fargo Bank.

In 2011, Wells Fargo initiated mortgage foreclosure proceedings against the Strunks in the Chester County Court of Common Pleas, which ended in 2013 with a granting of summary judgment in favor of Wells Fargo. According to court records, the Strunks did not appeal this decision in state court.

This would be the first of three civil actions filed by the Strunks against Wells Fargo in the Chester County Court of Common Pleas, as separate lawsuits were later filed in 2013 and 2014.

“Wells Fargo removed each of those three actions, which alleged various claims relating to the Strunks’ mortgage, to federal court. The District Court dismissed the 2011 case for failure to satisfy Federal Rule of Civil Procedure 8(a)(2)’s requirement that a pleading contain ‘a short and plain statement of the claim showing that the pleader is entitled to relief,” the appellate court stated.

“The District Court dismissed the 2013 case for failure to satisfy Rule 8(a)(2), and because the Strunks’ claims against Wells Fargo were barred by the doctrine of res judicata. The District Court dismissed the 2014 case for the same reasons that doomed the 2013 case,” the Third Circuit added.

The Strunks filed appeals in the 2013 and 2014 cases, but the Third Circuit affirmed the District Court’s judgments in both of those cases.

Nevertheless, in February 2016, the Strunks filed the aforementioned appeal notice in the District Court. The notice, which pertained to the Strunks’ mortgage and foreclosure, listed Wells Fargo as the “respondent” and referred to the case number for the Chester County Court of Common Pleas foreclosure action.

“On March 8, 2016, the District Court entered an order addressing this filing. In that order, the District Court construed the filing as a new complaint, screened it pursuant to 28 U.S.C. Section 1915(e)(2), and dismissed it on res judicata grounds in light of the Strunks’ prior cases. The Strunks then timely filed the appeal that is now before us,” the Third Circuit said.

The Third Circuit labeled the Strunks’ appeal notice as “far from a model of clarity”, and added the “difficult-to-follow brief” they filed in court as not remedying the problem.

“To the extent that the Strunks intended their ‘Notice of Appeal’ to serve as a new civil action, we agree with the District Court that such an action is barred by the doctrine of res judicata,” the Third Circuit stated. “To the extent that the Strunks intended their ‘Notice of Appeal’ to serve as an ‘appeal’ from the Chester County Court of Common Pleas’ judgment in the foreclosure action, that ‘appeal’ is barred by the Rooker-Feldman doctrine.”

The Rooker-Feldman doctrine bars a federal district court from exercising jurisdiction over cases brought by state-court losers complaining of injuries caused by state-court judgments rendered before the district court proceedings commenced and inviting district court review and rejection of those judgments.

“Lastly, to the extent that the ‘Notice of Appeal’ could liberally be construed as asking the District Court for relief from the judgments issued in their prior federal cases, we see no basis for that relief,” the Third Circuit said.

The Third Circuit concluded by denying all of the Strunks’ legal requests.

“In light of the above, we will affirm the District Court’s March 8, 2016 dismissal order. The Strunks’ ‘Motion for Immediate Financial Relief,’ as well as their request for a default judgment against Wells Fargo, are denied,” the Third Circuit said. “To the extent that the Strunks’ letters filed on June 24, 2016, and Sept. 30, 2016, respectively, seek any relief from us, that relief is also denied.”

The Third Circuit further denied the Strunks’ attempts to seek appointment of counsel, the prospective recusal of District Judge Lawrence F. Stengel and any other relief.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit case 16-1812

U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Pennsylvania 2:16-cv-00922

From the Pennsylvania Record: Reach Courts Reporter Nicholas Malfitano at nickpennrecord@gmail.com

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